Whatever the batting order, it’s the hitters themselves that will determine whether the Yankees lineup is any good this season. Joe Girardi could put them in the perfect 1 through 9, but if key players don’t perform up to their abilities, the offense simply won’t work. Hitters don’t have to be at their absolute peak to become valuable assets again, but key hitters reverting back toward key career stats would be a good strong step in the right direction.
If these specific players could bounce back in these specific ways, it would make a big difference.
MARK TEIXEIRA – Slugging percentage
Last season: .398
Teixeira has acknowledged that he’s probably not going to be a .300 hitter at this stage of his career. The shift has taken away a lot of his hits, and he’s just not a .300/.400/.500 guy anymore. But in 2012 — his last healthy season before last year — Teixeira slugged .475. That would have been the 12th-heighest slugging percentage in the American League last season. And it’s not that Teixeira absolutely can’t do that any more (he was slugging .474 at the end of June before a brutal second half). Power is at a premium these days, and Teixeira doesn’t have to be a great overall hitter to be a productive run producer.
BRIAN MCCANN – OPS vs. RHP
Last season: .633
McCann actually hit pretty well against lefties last season. Even exceeded his career numbers against them. What he did not do is hit against right-handers. He’d typically crushed them, but last season McCann slugged less than .400 with a sub-.300 on-base percentage against right-handers. Blame it on the shift. Blame it on the transition. Blame it on a bad year fully of lofty expectations. For whatever reason, McCann simply didn’t hit right-handers. Now that the American League East has lost several left-handed starters — including standouts Jon Lester and David Price — McCann should be able to feast on a bunch of righties in the division. Improve his splits, and McCann should significantly improve his production.
CARLOS BELTRAN – RBI
Last season: 49
Because of the elbow injury, it’s hard to know what to make of Beltran’s capabilities at this point. Was last year’s diminished slash line the product of age or injury? As recently as 2013, Beltran was still an .830 OPS guy. In his career he’s typically hit for a good average, hit for good power, and played a role in the middle of the order. That’s why he’s averaged more than 100 RBI per 162 games. Clearly RBI is not really an individual statistic. It depends heavily on playing time, and it depends on the rest of the lineup, and that’s why it’s such a key stat for Beltran. However he does it — through raw power or clutch hits or simply an abundance of opportunities — another 100 RBI season from Beltran would indicate that he’s stayed healthy and stayed in a lineup that’s generating plenty of run-scoring chances. As a guy the Yankees will surely count on in the middle of the order, a lot of Beltran RBI would be a good sign for the entire Yankees team.
JACOBY ELLSBURY – Stolen bases
Last season: 39
This is just a guess, but if Ellsbury is back at the top of the order (focusing on getting on base and creating havoc) rather than hitting in the middle (focusing on driving in runs and being a typical No. 3 hitter), I bet he’ll steal more bases this season. I might be completely wrong — and certainly a 39-steal season isn’t bad by any measure, it was the second-most in the American League — but a higher number of stolen bases would seem to indicate a better job getting on base and a willingness to run. In each of Ellsbury’s two highest-steal seasons, he’s had a .355 on-base percentage, which is 27 points higher than his on-base percentage last season. Stolen bases are hardly an absolute proof of Ellsbury’s productivity — he also had 39 steals in 2011, which was easily his overall best season — but a lot of steals in 2015 could be a sign of several things for the Yankees: It would suggest Ellsbury’s getting on base a lot, and that someone else hitting well enough in the middle of the order that Ellsbury gets to stay in his more-natural No. 1 or 2 spot.
STEPHEN DREW – Batting average on balls in play
Last season: .194
At times, BABIP is considered a measure of luck. If a typically good hitters has abnormally bad numbers, then a low batting average on balls in play could be an indication that he’s a few inches away from typical production. In the case of Drew, last year’s abnormally low BABIP could also be explained by his abnormally low line drive percentage. His home runs per fly ball were also down, as were his infield hits. His strikeout rate was significantly higher than usual. All of that could be an indication that Drew wasn’t simply unlucky last season, he simply wasn’t as prepared, making weaker contact when he made contact at all. Surely the Yankees aren’t banking on Drew being a dominant offensive player, but they’re obviously banking on him being better than last season’s .162/.237/.299. Better and more consistent contact should help.
CHRIS YOUNG – OPS vs. LHP
Last season: .561
Similar to the McCann situation, but from the opposite side of the plate and in a much smaller role. Even with that strong month of September, Young’s splits last season were not at all what’s come to be expected. He was alright against right handers, but he was brutal against lefties. Given all of the left-handed hitters in the Yankees regular lineup — and the presence of Garrett Jones as left-handed outfield option off the bench — Young’s role this season seems to be entirely in a platoon situation, bringing some right-handed balance to a team that leans to the left. Whether he’s in the lineup against lefties or coming off the bench to pinch hit for Drew or Didi Gregorius, Young could have a real impact if he’s able to make the most of his limited playing time against left-handers.
Associated Press photos
On the 40-man: Chris Young • 01.20.15
Continuing to look at every player on the Yankees 40-man roster, we’ll next turn to one of the least likely pieces of the 2015 team. Released by the Mets last season, he wound up taking a minor league contract with the Yankees, and he turned a September call-up into an impressive audition. One strong month convinced the Yankees he was worth one full year.
Age on Opening Day: 31
Acquired: Originally signed to a minor league deal in late August
Added to the 40-man: Re-signed to a big league deal in early November
In the past: A good combination of speed, power and defense, Young once looked like one of the better young center fielders in baseball. Before the 2007 season, he was basically a consensus Top 20 prospect in the game, and he became a legitimately productive big leaguer for a few years in Arizona. The past two years, though, his OPS has dipped below .700, which has led to his fall into a bench role.
Role in 2015: Although their roster has plenty of upper-level outfielders, the Yankees needed some right-handed balance and found it with a one-year, $2.5-million deal with Young. If he earns more at-bats, he’ll earn more money, but for now Young enters the season as a fourth outfielder who could see fairly steady playing time against left-handed pitching. He hit his way into the regular lineup at the end of last season.
Best case scenario: The Yankees basically witnessed the best-case scenario last season when Young showed up and hit .282/.354/.521 for a month. Some of those hits were big hits, too. Young doesn’t have to hit quite to that level to be a valuable role player off the bench. But if he hits like he did back in 2010 (.793 OPS; all-star selection), he could be a legitimate alternative to Carlos Beltran as a backup everyday right fielder.
Worst case scenario: The Mets basically witnessed the worst-case scenario last season when Young hit just .205/.283/.346, lost his everyday job and wound up released. For the Yankees, the worst-case scenario is that level of production, coupled with a real need to play Young a lot more than once or twice a week. If an outfielder gets hurt, Young might have to play more regularly, which means the Yankees will need better production.
What the future holds: Probably not much. For Young, this contract is an opportunity to reestablish himself and hit the open market again next winter. For the Yankees, it’s a chance to plug a hole on the bench, on that they hope to fill from within next season. Young is a stopgap with some short-term upside and no long-term commitment.
Associated Press photo
With Slade Heathcott re-signed to a minor league deal, the Yankees now have a ton of outfield depth, but still not the kind of depth that necessitates a trade or a particularly difficult decision. It’s not like the Francisco Cervelli situation in which the Yankees have a player with a defined value, along with the need to move someone in order to open up the proper at-bats for everyone else. Here’s a rough look at the Yankees top upper-level outfielders. Each comes with some good, some bad, and some reason — either because of the team’s needs or because of his own value — that limits his trade possibilities.
The good: Already a borderline Hall of Famer expected to be healthy again after last year’s elbow injury.
The bad: About to turn 38 years old — are we sure last year’s .703 OPS was strictly the product of injury?
Trade him? Not a lot of trade value in an aging player, coming of a bad year, with $30 million left on his deal.
The good: Signed a hefty deal last winter and more or less delivered an as-expected season in his Yankees debut.
The bad: Even coming off a solid season, seven years and $153 million is a massive contract.
Trade him? Might be the best position player on the roster right now.
The good: Power numbers spiked, and for a while he looked like a better player than Ellsbury last year.
The bad: Still a rather streaky player with limited power for a corner outfielder.
Trade him? Might be the most valuable trade chip on the big league roster, but also signed to a reasonable extension.
The good: History of left-handed power with an ability to backup first base, right field and designated hitter.
The bad: Turns 34 in June and his power numbers have been down the past two seasons.
Trade him? Would be more of a salary dump than an actual effort to get anything valuable in return (also provides first base insurance).
The good: Returns to bring right-handed balance after reestablishing himself with a terrific September.
The bad: Other than one good month, last season was bad enough to get him released … by the Mets.
Trade him? Plays a role the Yankees need as a veteran right-handed bat with power and speed off the bench.
The good: Last year’s terrific second half brought back memories of how good a hitter he was earlier in his career.
The bad: A wrist injury contributed to much less exciting numbers before that second-half resurgence.
Trade him? Of all the outfielders ticketed for Triple-A, Austin probably has the most offensive impact potential.
The good: Left-handed hitters with speed and some defensive flexibility; looks like a nice fourth outfielder down the road.
The bad: Coming off an ankle injury and isn’t a great fit while Gardner and Ellsbury are on the roster.
Trade him? Low power potential probably limits his value to more of a second or third piece in a significant trade.
The good: Right-handed hitter who’s shown some speed, defense and on-base ability in the minor leagues.
The bad: Plucked off waivers, suggesting he was not exactly a high commodity (also put up bad winter ball numbers this year).
Trade him? Value is pretty low just a few months after being placed on the waiver wire; DFA might be more likely than a trade.
The good: Offensive utility man put himself back on the prospect map — and in the big league picture — with a terrific Triple-A season.
The bad: Can’t really play shortstop and hasn’t really established whether he hits enough to keep a job in the big leagues.
Trade him? First and foremost, he seems to have a legitimate shot at the big league second base job heading into spring training.
The good: Speed and defense were deemed major-league ready, enough to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this winter.
The bad: Hasn’t hit the past two years, doing a number on his once elite prospect status.
Trade him? Would be selling awfully low — Williams no longer has the value to remotely headline a significant deal.
The good: Might have surpassed Williams and Heathcott as the system’s top center field prospect.
The bad: Doesn’t have overwhelming speed or power, and doesn’t have more than 42 games above A ball.
Trade him? Could be a nice complementary trade piece; could also be the most viable center fielder in the minor league system.
The good: The guys gets on base way too much to ignore; played his way out of the shadows and up to Triple-A last year.
The bad: Never a standout prospect, doesn’t run much, very little power, has spent more time in left field than center.
Trade him? Has never moved the needle among prospect watchers, suggesting his stock is too low to be considered a real chip.
The good: Has been a solid hitter throughout the minor leagues, even when easily overshadowed by other prospects.
The bad: Always kind of a sleeper prospect, but not one who’s forced people to really wake up and take notice.
Trade him? Hasn’t done nearly enough; could more easily simply become a Double-A bench player behind all of this depth.
The good: Has been a pretty nice hitter both in Triple-A and in winter ball (able to play center field and third base in a pinch).
The bad: Turns 30 years old in April so the upside is probably limited.
Trade him? Sure, if some team values a 30-year-old with no major league experience; could be another Ronnier Mustelier.
The good: No one seems to question the former first-round pick’s raw talent and ultimate potential.
The bad: Just can’t stay healthy, which has cost valuable development time; hard to gauge his ceiling at this point.
Trade him? Was a free agent until yesterday; if another team valued him highly, he probably wouldn’t have come back.
The good: After a standout first full season, he emerged as the top offensive prospect in the entire minor league system.
The bad: Ultimately we’re talking about fewer than 500 minor league at-bats; he’s promising but unproven.
Trade him? Plenty of value here, but Judge could be the best middle-of-the-order bat the Yankees have developed since Robinson Cano.
Associated Press photos
By my count, the Yankees added 10 brand new players to the big league roster — players who had not been in the organization when the season started — between the July 15 All-Star Game and the end of the regular season.
Second-half moves like that happen every year as teams try to plug holes here and there, but the Yankees’ second-half additions stand out because of just how many have either re-signed, stayed on the roster, or otherwise impacted the organization going forward. This list isn’t made entirely of lingering players, but there are lot of them.
LHP Rich Hill – Signed to a minor league deal immediately after the all-star break, Hill was allowed to leave via free agency this offseason. Perhaps his lasting impact is the fact he was the guy called up when the Yankees let go of Matt Thornton on waivers. That was a money saving move, and having Hill in Triple-A presumably made it a little easier (there really wasn’t another lefty to bring up before Hill was added to the mix).
3B Chase Headley – Seems safe to assume Headley would have been on the Yankees radar this offseason regardless of his second-half stint in pinstripes, but the Yankees clearly liked what they saw, and Headley has acknowledged that he enjoyed the New York experience more than he expected. Would these two have found common ground without that late-season audition? Maybe not.
LHP Chris Capuano – The Yankees were desperate for a starting pitcher, and Capuano was available. He had been released and was pitching in Triple-A when the Yankees acquired him, and he pitched like a good No. 5 during his 12-start stint as a rotation replacement. As other rotation options came off the table earlier this month, the Yankees eventually found their way back to the guy who pitched better than expected late in the season.
2B Martin Prado – Of all the names on the list, this is the only one clearly intended to be a long-term fix. The Yankees planned to use Prado in the outfield last season, but he wound up playing all over the field, and it was that versatility that made him a strong fit going forward. His ability to play second base has freed the Yankees to re-sign Headley, and Prado’s ability to play the outfield might eventually free them to add Rob Refsnyder.
SS Stephen Drew – Perhaps this was the audition that had the opposite impact of Headley. Finishing off a strange year in which he signed late and missed spring training, Drew came to the Yankees at the trade deadline with the expectation that he could learn and new position and improve his offensive numbers. The first part was no problem — Drew looked good at second — but the offense never got better. It seems telling that Drew’s still on the free agent market.
RHP Esmil Rogers – A waiver claim at the trade deadline, Rogers showed moments of promise mixed with moments that explained why he was so readily available in the first place. As the season was winding down, Rogers didn’t have a defined role and he entered this offseason as a prime non-tender candidate. The Yankees, though, got him to take a pay cut as they prepare to give him one more look as either a long man, a one-inning reliever, or possibly a starter.
OF Chris Young — This move was easy to mock at the time. Young, after all, had been released by the Mets earlier in the season and there seemed little chance that such a castaway would play any sort of role with the Yankees. But he signed a minor league deal, got a September call-up, hit a few home runs, and wound up with a new one-year deal as the team’s fourth outfielder. That late signing might have made all the difference.
LHP Josh Outman – Basically added to the mix because he seemed like a better left-on-left option than Hill, but late in the year it was Hill getting more of the prime matchup situations, and Outman wound up dumped back into free agency. Hard to remember Outman was ever on the roster in the first place.
RHP Chaz Roe – A late acquisition turned September call-up, Roe is a former first-round pick who pitched two innings for the Yankees, walked three guys, allowed three hits, gave up two earned runs and was never heard from again.
OF Eury Perez – End-of-the-season waiver claim who got 10 at-bats before the end of the season. He might have been let go this winter, but Perez was given an extra option and now seems likely to open the season in Triple-A as a bit of right-handed outfield depth. He has some speed to go with a .360 on-base percentage in the minors. Probably not a guy who’s going to play a significant role going forward, but he’s still in the mix at this point.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees first significant signing came this weekend when they agreed to a new one-year deal with Chris Young, bringing some right-handed balance to the outfield and some power/speed potential to the bench. With that signing, the Yankees seem set in the outfield with no need to add either a big league bat or additional minor league depth.
As it is, the Yankees have seven full-time outfielders on their 40-man roster — that’s to say nothing of the three 40-man infielders who have a solid amount of outfield experience — and they’re likely to add one or two more outfielders when it comes time to protect Tyler Austin and possibly Mason Williams from the Rule 5 draft.
Just taking a look at the projected big league roster, and the potential options at the highest levels of the minor league system, it seems the Yankees should have all that they need in the outfield. The depth could also leaves the Yankees with trade options should they decide to make a move.
Granted, it’s not remotely a lock that Pirela is going to make the team, and there’s a solid chance Wheeler will be designated for assignment at some point, but this is still a clear picture of three obvious starters, an experienced fourth outfielder, and at least one infielder who can play the outfield regularly if necessary. This roster also has three guys who can play center field when necessary, so the Yankees are covered as the most difficult-to-fill outfield position. Maybe another outfielder comes to camp on a non-roster invitation just in case — stranger things have happened — but there’s no overwhelming need here. Especially if the Yankees carrying a versatile utility guy like Pirela, they have plenty of big league outfield options as it is.
Picking the three “starting” outfielders for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre next season isn’t an easy task. I assume Austin will move up after his finishing strong in Double-A, and the bulk of his playing time will surely come in the outfield corners (perhaps with a little bit of corner infield now and then). Flores and Perez clearly need regular at-bats as well — they could be first in line for an outfield call-up — and both Dugas and Garcia have played well enough to also deserve playing time. Chances are Refsnyder will be strictly a second baseman, but he’s listed here just to show the Yankees have yet another guy who could play some Triple-A outfield if necessary. There’s also the chance that Pirela and/or Wheeler could end up back in Triple-A providing even more depth. There’s not much big league experience here, but there are only so many Triple-A at-bats to go around, and the Yankees surely want to prioritize legitimate prospects ahead of minor league veterans. Bringing back a guy like Antoan Richardson or signing someone similar would only take away at-bats from young guys who need the playing time.
Kind of like the Triple-A outfield, the Double-A outfield has more than three guys who seem worth of everyday at-bats. The tough part here is predicting what the Yankees are going to do with Heathcott and Williams. Is Heathcott going to be healthy enough to stay on the field (and if so, is he going back to Double-A or finally jumping to Triple-A)? Is Williams going to be lost in the Rule 5 draft (and if not, would he get priority playing time ahead of the other guys listed here)? Like with Austin, I’m assuming Judge will be challenged with a jump up a level, which means right field is taken, and Cave has played too well to be anything less than an everyday outfielder next season. In terms of immediate outfield depth, the important thing to notice here is that Heathcott and Williams are still looming as upper-level outfielders who could be on the 40-man roster and still warrant playing time as well. That leaves the Yankees with a lot of outfielders who need at-bats.
Associated Press photo
This has been bouncing around Twitter since late this morning, and we knew a deal was in place last night. But just in case you missed it, the Yankees today officially announced their one-year deal with Chris Young. Aside from perhaps extending a non-roster invitation just in case someone gets hurt, the Yankees shouldn’t have much need for additional outfield help at this point. Their Triple-A outfield seems full, and their big league outfield has three clear starters, an experienced fourth outfielder, and guys like Jose Pirela, Ramon Flores and Eury Perez who could slide into roles if necessary. Anyway, here’s the announcement from the Yankees:
Young, 31, hit .282 (20-for-71) with 9R, 8 doubles, 3HR and 10RBI in 23 games (16 starts in LF and one in RF) with the Yankees in 2014. He was signed by the club as a minor league free agent on August 27 and was selected to the Major League roster on September 2. Prior to joining the Yankees, he was designated for assignment by the New York Mets on August 9 and released on August 15. Overall at the Major League Level in 2014, Young batted .222 (72-for-325) with 40 runs, 20 doubles, 11 home runs, 38 RBI, 32 walks and eight stolen bases in 111 games.
On September 11, 2014, the Houston, Tex., native hit a three-run “walk-off” home run in just his sixth game as a Yankee, providing the margin of victory in a 5-4 win over Tampa Bay. It was the second home run in a career-high-tying stretch of three straight games with home runs from September 10?12. Immediately following that stretch, Young scored the game-winning run with a steal of home in the second inning of the Yankees’ 3-2 victory on September 13 at Baltimore.
The right-handed-hitting Young owns a .234 (897-for-3,833) career batting average with 539 runs, 236 doubles, 155 home runs, 486 RBI, 428 walks and 130 stolen bases in 1,103 games over nine Major League seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks (2006?12), Oakland A’s (2013), Mets (2014) and Yankees (2014). He was a National League All-Star in 2010, and has reached double figures in home runs in each of the last eight years, including four seasons of at least 20 home runs (2007?32HR, 2008?22HR, 2010?27HR and 2011?20HR).
Originally selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 16th round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft out of Bellaire High School, Young has played all three outfield positions during the course of his career, totaling just 27 errors in 2,546 career chances. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, his .990 career fielding percentage as an outfielder is 10th among active Major Leaguers with at least 1,000 career games played at the position.
Associated Press photo
When that final groundball rolled through the infield, settled into Martin Prado’s glove and was tossed to first base, Dave Robertson turned back toward the plate and pumped his fist. At least in the mind of the Yankees’ closer, this win mattered.
“Every win’s big for us now,” Robertson said. “We’ve dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, but this is September baseball, and I’ve seen amazing things happen. I’ve seen Tampa get in on the last day, and Boston fall out of the playoffs. You can’t give up hope, and you’ve got to try to grind out every single game. One win today. Wish we could have taken one yesterday, but one win’s big. Have to continue.”
We’ll find out later tonight whether this win actually made any sort of difference in the standings, but the key for the Yankees is that they keep this from being an isolated incident. They needed to bounce back from yesterday’s disappointment, and a three-run second inning did that. Now the only thing to do is try to win again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day.
“I told you, we’re going to have to win a lot of games,” Joe Girardi said. “Win one tomorrow. That’s all we can do. We have to go out and win tomorrow.”
It was another game when the offense didn’t do a ton, and it was another win that rested largely on the pitching staff, but a win is a win. For one day, all the Yankees could do was win one, and I guess that’s big enough for the time being.
“Three runs by no means is a lot, especially when we got them all early,” Chris Young said. “But for our guys to lock that lineup down like they did, it was huge for us today. It was a really big win today.”
• Bit of a grind for Shane Greene today, but even with an elevated pitch count he got the Yankees into the sixth inning with just two runs. “He did a really good job,” Girardi said. “He was getting outs when he had to, that’s the bottom line. He was making pitches when he had to. They fouled a lot of pitches off on him today, but he made some big pitches.”
• Here’s Greene: “I felt like early my slider was good, but I couldn’t throw it for a strike. As the game went on, I started throwing it for a strike a little bit more and it helped a lot. … I trust it. I just have to keep going to it until I find it.”
• Greene is 4-0 with a 2.72 ERA in six road starts this season. The Yankees have not lost a game that he started on the road. Overall, the Yankees have won six of Greene’s past eight starts and Greene has left the game with the Yankees leading in nine of his 12 starts.
• Camden Yards might be an early favorite for Greene. He’s struck out nine or more batters three times this season, and two of those have come here in Baltimore.
• Robertson threw 35 pitches yesterday, and he could feel it today. “A little sore warming up,” he said. “Once I got going, I felt a lot better. I didn’t have the greatest command coming into the game, but I knew that I was going to be able to find the zone. Obviously I wasn’t going to allow any walks. Kind of hung a curveball. I was throwing it for strikes, but it kind of hung up a little higher than I would have liked. Started out with a runner on first because of that single.”
• Before the game, Robertson assured Girardi and Larry Rothschild that he’d be able to lock down one inning. Given the current situation, how sore would he have been to tell the coaching staff he couldn’t pitch? “Unable to get the ball to the catcher to not come in there today,” he said.
• Another hit for Chris Young who’s hitting .417/417/.958 since stepping into the Yankees lineup. “He’s been really, really good,” Girardi said. “You look at his last at-bat, he just missed hitting a homer. A couple today. He’s swinging the bat well; that’s why he’s in there.”
• Young technically stole home today. It was on the back end of a double steal. He was basically able to walk home after Antoan Richardson stole second with two outs in the second. “We talk about it at third base before it even happens,” Young said. “You know if he gets a good jump, most likely he’s going to be safe. The situation being that they still may gamble and taking a chance on getting him, you just go for it and say if you see the catcher look like he’s going to throw it, you just take a gamble, take a chance and try to steal a run. It was pretty easy for me just to walk in. The credit really goes to Twon just to get the bag in that situation.”
• Speaking of Richardson, he got his first career RBI today. He’s played alright these past two days in his first career starts.
• Brian McCann hit his 19th home run of the season, and his third home run on the road. All eight of his previous hits against the Orioles this season were singles.
• Robertson has 36 saves this season and 44 saves in his career. That puts him in a tie with Rafael Soriano for the eight-most saves in Yankees history.
• Final word to Girardi: “We’ve been in a lot of these games, yeah. We’ve been in a ton of these games and I’ve said going back to May or June that we were going to have to win these type of games. These are the type of games we need to win.”
Associated Press photos
Plenty of confusion tonight about the fifth-inning play at the plate that essentially cost the Yankees their best chance to tie the game. But the reality is — and everyone seemed to agree — that baseball’s evolving rule about blocking the plate never should have come into play because Stephen Drew never should have been waved home in the first place.
“To begin with, just a bad send,” third-base coach Rob Thomson said. “Just an error on my judgment. I take full responsibility for it. We’re all accountable around here. It just wasn’t a good decision. Nobody out, the middle of the lineup coming to the plate, I’ve got to stop him right there. I thought the outfielder was going a little bit further to the line. He came up and squared up (to throw) pretty quick. I should’ve stopped him. … From my perspective, the ruling doesn’t really come into play. It’s just a matter of whether I think that guy is going to be able to score or not, and (the rule) shouldn’t come into play, especially with nobody out.”
Or, to put it another way:
“You can’t make the first out at home,” Joe Giradi said. “It’s a quick decision he has to make. It’s a bang-bang decision — and it’s not an easy job — but you have the bases loaded and nobody out (if he doesn’t send the runner).”
The confusion came because Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan clearly blocked the plate without the ball, but the league actually sent a memo earlier today saying that catchers can stand in front of the plate if they have the ball in plenty of time (basically making sure runners aren’t safe on a technicality, which is the best Drew could have hoped for). With or without the memo, it seems Drew would have been allowed to run over the catcher, but runners are basically conditioned to slide at this point.
“They still want them to slide,” Girardi said. “It really hasn’t changed a whole lot. They talk about they want the guys to slide. And the guys know that if the guy’s blocking the plate, they can run them over. They are so used to sliding now, in a sense, it’s going back and forth.”
That’s what Drew said. He basically had no lane and wasn’t sure what he was allowed to do, so he slid. But it all comes back to the decision to send the runner.
“If I had to do it again I’d probably do it the other way (and run him over) because of the outcome,” Drew said. “… At the time I thought it was be a little closer than it was when Tomper sent me there. At that point, it was already too late.”
• I’ll probably write more about this in the morning, but my impression of Girardi and everyone else was that this was the most resigned the Yankees have seemed all season. This really felt like the blow that knocked out what little hope remains for a playoff push. “It leaves us in a pretty big hole,” Girardi said. “Basically we have to win every day. That’s the bottom line: we have to win every day.”
• Girardi pointed out that immediately after Drew was thrown out at the plate, Derek Jeter still had a chance to drive in the tying run and he instead lined into double play. Sending Drew was a bad decision. Jeter’s ball was pretty bad luck.
• Girardi also called it bad luck that Ichiro Suzuki was doubled up at second base in the seventh inning. Ichiro had singled and stolen second base and he had a great jump trying to steal third, but Drew flied to right and Ichiro couldn’t get back in time.
• Chris Young drove in two of the Yankees three runs tonight. He got his first Yankees hit in his first Yankees start. It was his first hit and first start since August 5 with the Mets. It was his first RBI July 30 and first multi-RBI game since July 13.
• The other Yankees run came on Jacoby Ellsbury’s 15th home run. This is the second time in his career that he’s hit at least 15 homers in a season. Ellsbury is hitting .361 with 12 runs, three triples, five homers and 15 RBI in his past 19 games.
• Brutal game for Hiroki Kuroda, who’d been pitching extremely well before tonight’s debacle. “I had a great start in the first inning,” Kuroda said. “But I feel like they changed their approach in the second inning on, and I wasn’t able to re-adjust instantly. … I guess I should have changed my approach on my first pitches, which I didn’t do.”
• Kuroda struck out the game’s first three batters, but beginning with a leadoff homer in the second, he allowed four runs on nine hits without pitching through the fourth inning. It was the first time this season that he lasted fewer than four innings. “I just didn’t think he located his fastball very well and his split didn’t have quite the bite it had all of his other starts that we’ve been seeing when he’s been on a roll,” Girardi said.
• This was Kuroda’s shortest outing since May 22 of last year, and it was the most hits he’d ever allowed in a start of 3.1 innings or less. He was one hit shy of a season-high in hits allowed.
• The Yankees bullpen was exceptional. Seven relievers combined for 5.2 scoreless innings with just two hits, two walks and six strikeouts. The bullpen has pitched 20.2 scoreless inning in their past six games.
• Derek Jeter went 0-for-4 while playing in his 2,730th career game. He is now tied with Mel Ott for the eight-most games ever played among players who played their whole career with one team. According to Elias, Jeter also tied Ott for the most games ever played for a New York MLB team.
• We’ll give the final word to Mark Teixeira: “I mean, we want to win, obviously. That’s a tough game. We made a little run there, but you have to get to these guys before their eighth- and ninth-inning relievers. They’re two of the best in baseball. We had some chances in the middle innings but just couldn’t get over the hump. … We have to win a lot of games. We’ve said it before; we have very little margin for error. We have to try to win every night.”
Associated Press photos
There’s a chance Masahiro Tanaka has just one more hurdle to clear before rejoining the Yankees rotation.
Tanaka pitched a three-inning, 45-pitch simulated game this afternoon and declared his arm stronger and healthier than it was two weeks ago in Detroit. He’ll next throw a typical between-starts bullpen before pitching either another simulated game with the Yankees or possibly an instructional league game in Tampa (presumably on Sunday).
After that, a big league start is a legitimate option.
“I think that’s possible to look at, yeah,” Joe Girardi said.
Last time Tanaka threw a simulated game – August 28 at Comerica Park – he complained the next day about soreness and fatigue. That’s when Tanaka’s throwing program was temporarily suspended, creating real doubt about whether he would return this season. Today there seems to be far more hope than doubt.
“Definitely I was throwing stronger, harder than in Detroit,” Tanaka said. “Not overly worried (that it will be sore tomorrow). A bit concerned just because of what happened in Detroit, but when I was throwing, it was completely sort of different. A different feel than what I was feeling in Detroit versus today, so I think I’ll be OK tomorrow.”
Throughout this process, Tanaka has always sounded like a guy who knew his stuff wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues. But today, his tone was different.
“I do (feel ready),” he said. “But I’d probably build up a little bit more pitches before actually going into a competitive game.”
Girardi said he thought Tanaka was better in every way compared to the Detroit sim game. He said the velocity was better, command was better, and the offspeed pitches were sharper. Tanaka faced Chris Young, Antoan Richardson, Zelous Wheeler and Austin Romine.
“Really good,” Young said. “I’m not really sure how the (velocity) is supposed to look or anything like that, but I know his split-finger was just as good as ever and his breaking ball was just as good as I’ve ever seen it. I had the opportunity to face him earlier this year (with the Mets) so I knew what I was getting myself into standing in the box. He looked amazing. He didn’t give up a hit, and we’re all out there trying, for sure. We’re not just standing in. We’re trying to have competitive at-bats and give him as much of a real game situation that you can. He was locked in and made some great pitches.”
• When Brett Gardner had an abdominal issue in Cleveland earlier this year, he missed just one game. This time, he’s missed three games already. “He has an abdominal strain,” Girardi said. “We’re not sure exactly when we’ll get him back. He does feel better. He’ll see the doctor again tonight and then we’ll try to make some decisions on when he’ll start doing some baseball activities. … I’m not sure when we’ll get him back. It is a concern of mine. We’ll continue to talk to the doctors, measure how he feels and how he’s improving and go from there.”
• Gardner’s been perhaps the Yankees most consistent hitter this season. Their hottest hitter of late has been Martin Prado, and Prado’s also out of the lineup. His hamstring is still bothering him. “There’s concern about him playing on that, where he could really make it worse in his hamstring to where it becomes a serious issue,” Girardi said. “It’s still bothering him. Even though I told him to guard it — and he did a good job — there’s concern.”
• Girardi said there was no real setback from Prado playing the previous two games, it just hasn’t gotten better. “It’s the same,” Girardi said. “But there’s concern.”
• David Phelps will throw a side on Wednesday and it seems entirely possible — if not likely — that he’ll be activated for Friday’s double header. “Everything feels great,” Phelps said. Although he could be activated Friday (that’s purely my own speculation based on the timing of his side), Phelps said he’s not expecting to start one of those games.
• I only saw him for a moment as he was walking through the clubhouse, but Francisco Cervelli is definitely back with the Yankees. I never saw him in the clubhouse during those games when he was shutdown with the recurring headaches. The fact he was around today would seem to be a good sign.
• Although he’s gotten into three games and taken one at-bat, this will be Young’s first start since coming to the Yankees. “Not too many people know I’m over here yet,” Young said. “A few people still think I’m with the Mets. I don’t think the word’s gotten around town yet. Tonight I could change that.”
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi made a change at the top of the order today, just not the change so many have been suggesting. Jacoby Ellsbury is back in the leadoff spot, Brett Gardner is batting third for the first time, and Derek Jeter is still right in between them as the No. 2 hitter.
“For the first four months of the year, he was probably one of our most consistent hitters,” Girardi said. “One of the three most consistent hitters in our club. I consider us kind of to be in playoff mode right now, for us, because we obviously need to win games. Throughout his career, he’s been clutch in the playoffs, and we’re leaving him there. He’s a hot topic always just because of who he is, but there’s other issues that we have in our club that we have to get better at as well.”
Is there pressure to keep Jeter in that spot for his final month?
“No, not necessarily,” Girardi said. “… If I had eight other guys hitting .300, it probably wouldn’t be difficult (to move him down). When you look up and down at our numbers, we’ve had a number of guys that have had tough years. Years that we wouldn’t have projected. So (if) I move him, who am I going to put there? That’s my question. Who you going to move there that’s been more consistent during the course of the season. We haven’t hit collectively as a team, and to single him out is not fair. … (Rank) 13 out of 15 in runs scored. That’s not all Derek’s fault. That’s collectively we haven’t hit.”
Of course, it’s hard to know how much of Girardi’s persistence with Jeter is because of external pressure — because of who Jeter is and what his final season means — and how much is because of the disappointing hitters around him. The Yankees really haven’t had many consistent alternatives. Martin Prado is hot right now, but his first few weeks with the team were underwhelming. Gardner is coming off a bad month. Mark Teixeira is coming off a terrible month.
“(Jeter) could hit .600 and if the other guys don’t produce around him and through the lineup, then it’s not going to matter what he hits,” Girardi said. “So, as I said, it’s going to have to be a collection of all these guys that can swing the bat extremely well. And if one guy’s not, the other guy picks him up. That’s the bottom line.”
• Masahiro Tanaka has been examined by Dr. Chris Ahmad, who diagnosed him with nothing more than arm fatigue. “Every manual test that they did came out really well,” Girardi said. “They just said he had some arm fatigue. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen sometime this week and hopefully he’s ready to do it.” Tanaka played catch today and apparently had no issues.
• For those confused by the move: Putting Tanaka on the 60-day doesn’t really mean much. Those moves are always retroactive, and he’s missed close to 60 days already. He could still come back this season.
• David Phelps threw a 25-pitch bullpen this afternoon (fastballs and changeups), and he’s scheduled for a 35-pitch bullpen on Friday (all of his pitches). Phelps said he expects to throw a simulated game on Sunday, and that might be the final step toward getting him off the disabled list and into the bullpen. “I know that we’ve been going kind of conservative with it just to make sure everything comes back,” Phelps said. “All of the steps have been good along the way, so it shouldn’t be too long.”
• Of the Yankees eight September call-ups, five are relievers. Two of those — Whitley and Mitchell — are basically long men. “Obviously pitching is always important this time of year,” Girardi said. “It gives you more options, with a doubleheader coming up eventually here.”
• Why John Ryan Murphy but not Austin Romine? “The organization made the decision to go with (Murphy),” Girardi said. “Obviously I don’t get to see either one of them play a lot. So they went with Murphy.”
• Not much of a surprise that Chris Young got a call-up. I have to imagine that was a condition of any contract he was looking to sign after being released. “(He’s) been pretty productive in his career off left-handers,” Girardi said.
• If there’s a surprise among the call-ups, it’s certainly Antoan Richardson. “Speed off the bench,” Girardi said. Richardson played with Atlanta a little bit in 2011. He was 26-for-27 stealing bases with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he also had a .380 on-base percentage. Kind of a custom-made September call-up, just wasn’t sure the Yankees would actually make the move to get him on the 40-man.
• Zoilo Almonte was designated for assignment after leading Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in home runs and RBI this season. After Almonte struggled in New York last season, Girardi just never seemed to have much faith in his ability to hit big league right-handers the way he did in Triple-A. His splits are so extreme that, despite being a switch hitter, he’s likely a platoon player at best. Last year might have been his opportunity to show something, but he hit .236/.274/.302 (vRHP .250/.296/.342).
• Why Gardner batting third? “He’s probably been as good against right-handers as anyone in our lineup,” Girardi said. “I left Jake in the one hole. My concern in switching the guys when they both were going well was that they’re both going well, why move them. So I put Jake in the one hole when Gardy got hurt and he did extremely well. I’ll leave him there and just put Gardy third.”
• On Ellsbury’s health: “I saw him run on Sunday, which, I was really encouraged,” Girardi said. “He said he felt better yesterday and felt better today and that’s why I have him in center. In saying that, I told him, look, if you feel that it’s an issue out there you’ve got to let me know. If you feel you need to DH a day, you have to let me know.”
Associated Press photos